A building fire that went out of control for hours overnight in a major city in southern Taiwan killed 46 people and injured at least 41 others, the authorities said on Thursday.
Flames and smoke rose from the lower floors of the 13-story building as firefighters tried to put out the fire on the street and aerial platforms in Kaohsiung City. In a statement by the fire brigade, the fire, which broke out around 3 a.m., was described as “extremely violent” and several floors were destroyed.
The death toll rose steadily throughout the day as rescue workers searched the combined commercial and residential building. By late afternoon, authorities said 32 bodies had been taken to the morgue, while another 14 people who showed no sign of life were taken to the hospital under 55. One hospital death is officially confirmed in Taiwan.
After dawn, firefighters could be seen spraying water from high work platforms into the middle floors of the still smoldering building. A woman who was not identified said on Taiwanese television that her 60- to 70-year-old parents were still in the house.
The age of the building and the piles of debris blocking access to many areas made search and rescue difficult, officials said, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
Many of the residents of the 40-year-old building were elderly and lived alone in apartments measuring just 13 square meters, local media said. The building had 120 units on the upper floors plus an enclosed movie theater, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs below, the Central News Agency said.
Fire extinguishers had been installed last month, but only three per floor because residents could no longer afford to pay more, United Daily News reported.
The fire appeared to have broken out on the ground floor, Taiwanese media said.
The United Daily News said investigators were focused on a first floor tea shop the owner of which reportedly had an argument with his girlfriend on Wednesday. You have not ruled out arson, it said in the newspaper.
A fire in 1995 in a nightclub in Taichung, Taiwan’s third largest city, killed 64 people.